Put Ijeoma Oluo and Crystal Fleming on your antiracism reading list

Two new books offer an education—with grace and humor.

At the very first antiracism circle our church hosted, the small group that gathered included one person of color. After introductory conversation and an opening exercise, a white man turned to that one woman of color to express shock, dismay, and guilt, pleading with her to teach him how to stop being racist. He essentially vomited the emotional guilt-bile of white male supremacy into her lap. The woman turned toward him finally and said, “I do not have time to tell you what it’s like to live as a black woman.” She never came back.

If I could access any of the time-traveling devices of fantasy fiction, I would get these two books directly into the hands of that earnest white man. White people have so much to learn, and Ijeoma Oluo and Crystal Fleming offer an exceptional education. They do it graciously and with humor, but they are just as tired of racial ignorance as that blessed woman in the circle at church.

Most religious institutions—left, right, and center—have at some point launched some sort of “sacred conversation on race.” But many of these initiatives feel as thinly planned and resourced as Howard Schultz’s #RaceTogether campaign. When police were called on two black men waiting for a friend to arrive at a Starbucks, the CEO’s first response to the now infamous incident was to invite baristas to hashtag peoples’ fancy caramel coffee drinks with random invitations to talk about race. Randomly asking people in a room to “talk about race” is a cocktail made for disaster from a 350-year-old recipe. But Schultz is not alone. People in churches make these blunders, too.